It was back to work for Cormac Sharvin as he took my call en route to visit his Performance Coach, Ed Coughlan in Cork ahead of a trip to South Africa for his first event as a full-time member on the European Tour. Such is the condensed scheduling at the top tier of golf, it’s becoming harder to differentiate between where one season ends and another begins but it’s a challenge Sharvin was embracing having officially earned his Main Tour stripes at the close of the Challenge Tour season in Mallorca.
“It’s been a difficult one,” he confessed. “Obviously, there’s a pretty quick turnaround. It’s been nice sitting here this week not being at Q-School and being able to say ‘God, I’ve really earned not having to go through that’, but then it’s hard to process knowing that I need to enjoy what I’ve done this year while getting ready for the start of the next one.”
Qualifying School 2018 seemed as good a place as any to begin dissecting the journey of the 27-year old over the last 12 months. There, a bizarre two-shot penalty contributed to Sharvin agonisingly missing out on a European Tour card by a single stroke, but far from allowing that disappointment hinder his attitude towards the game, he used it to fuel what would unquestionably prove to be his most successful campaign as a professional thus far.
“I started working with my performance coach, Ed a little under two years ago and a huge part of what we’re trying to do is learn from everything that happens and understand why it happens,” Sharvin said.
“Going into Q-School last year I’d had a disappointing season. I hadn’t played well and finished 71st on the Challenge Tour rankings which was just losing my card, but I had a fresh approach going into Q-School. I felt I’d turned a corner in terms of my game and my mindset and I was probably quietly confident that I could get the job done.
“To miss out by one shot was disappointing but I felt the main thing that was going to show from that experience was how I responded to that adversity and I think the richest learning is found in failure so that was a big turning point. It really added to the fire of wanting to succeed.”
Coinciding with a fresh outlook was an even fresher start in Dublin with Sharvin relocating to the nation’s capital last year.
“My girlfriend started a Masters in Trinity so that worked well,” he said, with the geographical switch also suiting as it brought the Ardglass professional closer to the bulk of his backroom team based in Cork.
“In around Dublin there’s more golfers and more opportunity to test yourself against other players. We’ve got a good little group who like to get together and play for things that are meaningful – maybe not always money – but that’s had a big impact on my performances.”
I’d interviewed Sharvin two years prior and one takeaway from that chat was that he refused to take his golf home with him. Whether he’d played good or bad, even then the fledgling pro would remain level, aligning himself with positive people to ensure there was a non-golf related outlet that he could always turn to. Two years later and he hadn’t lost sight of the importance of life away from the game.
“My lifestyles definitely got better – socially Dublin’s great,” he said. “There’s always a way out in terms of getting away from golf – something that can be overlooked but something I place a lot of value in. Dublin has so much going for it, whether it’s meeting friends for coffee and lunch or going for a couple of pints, I think that’s very important in terms of being able to set aside your work.”
Rule 101 of business, you have to spend money to make money and Sharvin’s rise to prominence over the past two years is no coincidence in this regard. The Ulsterman identified areas to improve and approached who he hoped would be the right people to make those gains happen.
“I’m really lucky in that my team work harder, if not as hard as me, to make me a better person and a better performer,” he said of his Strength and Conditioning Coach, Alan Dunton, his Performance Coach Ed Coughlan, his Mentor from his home club of Ardglass, Paul Vaughan and Mike Welch who’s always available should Sharvin have a technical query. All four have proved key to Sharvin’s betterment but none more so than Coughlan, who’s been an ever-present since Sharvin placed his faith in the Performance Specialist.
“He initiated a change of behaviour in me,” Sharvin explained. “I was more up for a challenge with Ed and he’d challenge everything I did, particularly in practice so when I was tested, I could go, ‘right, I’ve practiced this. I know how to deal with being challenged’. Obviously, I’m a long way away from where I want to get to but I’m more open to that challenge now. It’s helped me find out what works for me and not what works for everyone and I’m comfortable and confident enough not to veer away from that.”
With his off-course team all pulling in one direction, perhaps one of the most pivotal pieces of the jigsaw fell into place at the end of last season as Sharvin, without very little money in the bank, stuck his neck out to invest in an experienced full-time caddie, Bray native Brian Byrne, who’s been a top Tour bagman for the best part of 20 years.
“Brian started working for me at Second Stage Q-School last year,” Sharvin recalled. “He’s got a lot of experience but he also understands what makes me tick and doesn’t put what he’s seen in other players onto me – I think that trait is hard to find in someone so experienced.
“Brian brings me a lot of confidence. He’s been under pressure a lot himself, he’s won golf tournaments and his experience has been priceless for me.”
Priceless it may have proved but at the time it was a brave outlay of significant expenditure and the risks weren’t lost on the budding pro.
“In the position I’ve been in the last few years – I’ve been lucky enough to have good sponsors but it’s not like I’ve been able to make good money, I’ve been making losses,” he revealed.
“For me though, I wanted to invest in myself, especially at that stage of my career. By having a caddie, I’d say it was a slightly gutsy decision, particularly coinciding with my move to Dublin because I’ve got the expense of that to deal with too. But it’s very important to invest in yourself as a pro golfer, especially at Challenge Tour level. I’m just lucky that Brian was available and he’s proof of the impact good investment can have.”
Right on cue, Sharvin hit the ground running as the 2019 season teed off in Africa where a top-20 finish at the Kenya Open was followed by another top-20 at the Mixed event in Jordan. Missed cuts followed in Turkey and Spain but those consecutive weekend absences would prove an anomaly and sparked a run of form, Italian Challenge aside, that laid the foundations for Sharvin’s season-long stranglehold on a place inside the top-15 on the Road to Mallorca.
From the Prague Challenge in May, the former Walker Cup star recorded eight top-10 finishes, including six top-5’s but it was a rare venture to the European Tour on invite to the Irish Open in Lahinch that the showman Sharvin introduced his talent to the wider golfing world this year.
“Team Ireland have been so good at getting me opportunities over the past three and a half years as a pro and I was very lucky to get that opportunity to play in Lahinch,” he said of a week where not only did he get to experience the festival atmosphere created by tournament host Paul McGinley and the surf town of County Clare, but he also contributed greatly to the energy that will prove unforgettable for all those who witnessed it.
A top-15 finish saw Sharvin bank €85,655 but far from the windfall alleviating pressure, if anything it just added to his burning desire to join the top table of golf more often.
“Lahinch was unbelievable and it proved I can compete with some of the best players in the world. Even going into Sunday, I was only four back. I had a chance to win my second Rolex event which gave me a lot of confidence and it proved that the stuff I was working on off the course in practice could stand up to the highest pressure.
“But I don’t think it alleviated any pressure to be honest. At the end of the day I didn’t want to be playing Challenge Tour next year. I wanted to get off there and the pressure for me was in that. Pressure is good though. You’re always going to feel pressure no matter where you tee up and it’s how you deal with that – that’s where the juices are for me.
“Being in those environments is something that you’ve got to get comfortable with. I don’t think that cheque helped ease that, if anything it hit me with more pressure to play well. In golf, anyone can have one good week and I wanted to be seen as consistent, always ready to compete. Thinking back now, it’s not something I’d really thought about before but the Irish Open obviously gave me confidence but I didn’t want to be that one–shot wonder.
“If I play a professional poker player in poker, I might beat him in a few hands but if I play him over a year, he’s going to take my money. That was the key. The pressure after Lahinch was to kick on and get off the Challenge Tour. The Irish Open gave me a taster for the kind of events I want to be playing, that next level and thankfully that’s how it transpired.”
If the feel-good factor wasn’t in full flow after collecting his biggest cheque in Rolex company on home soil in Ireland, there was more family fortune to follow as Cormac’s Uncle, Brian ‘Bo’ Martin caddied Shane Lowry to victory at the 148th Open Championship two weeks later at Royal Portrush.
“Honestly, I missed it,” he laughed. “I’d planned to visit my mate in London that weekend because I had a week off so I wasn’t there. But I got home on Sunday and watched every shot on TV which in a sense was nearly nicer. I met the guys that night and obviously I was thrilled for Bo.
“Bo’s helped me a lot through my career and I suppose more so this year, he’s seen what it takes and he knows the feelings created in trying to win huge events. I’m only drawing from his experience in that and trying to incorporate a bit of it into my game. But Bo also set me up with my caddie, Brian recognising not only that he was a good caddie but that he’d suit my personality. I can’t really thank him enough for that.”
For all Sharvin’s fairway feats in 2019, one obvious thing missing from the CV is a visit to the winner’s enclosure.
“I won in Corballis last Thursday,” he laughs, “does that count?”
“I actually sat down with Ed at the start of the year and we thought, ‘do you want to be the guy who churns out top-10’s and tries to compete every week or do you want to be the guy who pops up once a year and wins?’ For me, the work I’ve been doing has been based around being consistent.
“The way the game is now, one good week can be so lucrative in golf but it’s very easy for your work to lie to you in that environment. I’ve been aiming to be competitive most weeks I’ve teed it up. Ok, I haven’t won this year but I’ve put myself in position to win quite a few times and I think that’s going to stand me in better stead when I do have chances.”
Indeed, it wasn’t for a lack of effort that Sharvin failed to get over the line. The old cliché is to control the controllable and in Geneva at the Rolex Trophy, he did just that. Any other day and a final round of eight-under par 64 with a double exclamation point of a birdie-birdie for a 22-under par total would’ve proved enough to take the title. That day, flying Dutchman, Darius Van Driel edged him by one.
“I think I’ve done enough to win a couple of events this year and I’ve just been pipped,” Sharvin reflected. “But it’s very hard to win in golf. Not to win is disappointing given how I’ve played this year but it shows just how difficult it is. The way I see it, the more I get myself into contention, the more chances I’ll have to win and hopefully I can pick one or two off in the near future.”
If Sharvin is to pick up a maiden win next year, it will come on the top tier of European golf where at 27-years young, he will enter his Rookie season on Tour. Some may feel his arrival has come late, given his age profile but Sharvin’s rise to the top has been anything but. He was all of 15 when he traded sliotars for Srixons, leaving his hurling past behind to take up golf. His trajectory from there was vertical and swift as Sharvin enjoyed a meteoric rise through the amateur ranks that culminated in Walker Cup honours in 2015.
Perhaps it’s for this reason that some commentators expected the line on the graph to continue to soar into the pro game but did he ever feel the impatience of the public as he strived to make his breakthrough on the paid circuit?
“You know, the world is definitely becoming more impatient because everything is done so quickly for you these days,” he said. “If I look back to when I started working with Ed a couple of years ago, the first year I worked with him, my stroke average didn’t get any better and on the surface, it didn’t look like I was making inroads. But I really felt like I was making positive changes.
“I felt like I was on the right track even though I didn’t improve straight away. My commitment to what we were doing and what we were trying to do overrode everything else. Me being patient in that instance was so important to me getting my card this year.
“It’s really easy to call how things should go from the couch watching on TV but you have to be patient. If someone graduates from college, they don’t go straight to CEO. Of course, it does happen. People can race to the top of the ladder really quickly but I think the biggest thing to understand is yourself as a player, find what works for you and accept that things take time.
“Obviously it’s difficult but if you’re on the right track, committed to what you’re doing and believing it’s right, you’ve just got to be patient with that and more often than not, you’re going to come out the other side of that in a better place.”
No better example of staying the course and bearing fruit is Sharvin’s friend, Jonathan Caldwell who earned his own European Tour graduation after coming through 180 holes of Q-School hell unscathed. It’s been 10 years since Caldwell took to the European Tour fairways as a spritely 25-year old Rookie and 10 years later, he’ll share those greener pastures with Sharvin during his first take on Tour.
Contrasting the pair’s arrival proves there’s no one blueprint guiding golfers through the Pearly Gates and even for those who have managed to fast-track their route to the Promised Land, the game is unforgiving and can eventually bite you, regardless of what you’ve achieved. Sharvin’s 2015 Walker Cup teammates, Paul Dunne and Gavin Moynihan know all about that. Moynihan will be relying on invites next year with a Challenge Tour card in his pocket after dropping off the Main circuit while Dunne will be guaranteed up to 20 starts off Conditional status after failing to retain his playing rights on this season’s Race to Dubai.
Whether Sharvin’s steady ascent through the professional game proves more beneficial is irrelevant, however because what remains most pertinent is that it was a road right for him and one he carved, created and customised for one man only and with the help of his team.
“Obviously Paul’s done great – he’s a guy who climbed the ladder quite quickly but we’ve got to remember that he led a British Open after three rounds as an amateur so he already had that head–start and he’s been a good player for a long time,” Sharvin said.
“For me, I had one really good year as an amateur and decided to turn pro. At the time I probably thought that I was going to do really good really quick but you’ve got to remember, I haven’t really been competing at the highest level for that long so it’s taken me a while to find my feet.
“Paul was in America for four years, played at a really high standard of amateur golf, led the Open etc. It’s taken me a while in comparison but it goes back to finding out what worked for me and now I’ve got off the Challenge Tour because of that which is hopefully just the start of things to come.”
The start of things to come arrives sooner than Sharvin has previously experienced as the Alfred Dunhill in South Africa lights the beacons of the 2019/20 European Tour season, with the tire marks of the Race to Dubai still hot on the tarmac. An integral part of next season’s challenge will be selecting a schedule that brings the best out of the Ardglass pro, something he and his team excelled at this year.
Only three players teed it up less than Sharvin amongst the top-15 on the Road to Mallorca and it’s a successful approach he’s refusing to tamper with ahead of the new campaign.
“I’ve learned that I play well whenever I’ve had a bit of time off,” he explained. “For me, the thinking behind it was that I wanted to be as fresh as I could be on the weeks I teed it up in order to give myself the best chance to compete. People don’t realise how tiring it is to be a professional golfer. You can be on the road for four weeks. Coming into that fourth week, you may have travelled through different countries and different time zones.
“I didn’t want to be that guy playing three in a row and pushing myself to keep playing well. I wanted to be ready and give myself a little advantage over that guy playing four weeks in a row. If I’m coming in off a week off, I’ve relaxed, maybe I’ve worked on something and I’m ready to compete as opposed to running on empty. Sometimes you have to have guts to take weeks off but it’s something I won’t be afraid to do.”
Another thing Sharvin won’t shy away from is setting goals ahead of the New Year. When I first spoke to him two years ago, he was still 24 and starry eyed starting out his second season on the Challenge Tour. Back then he told me:
“I think my game’s good enough to get into the top–15 in the Order of Merit and that I’m ready to take the step up to try and get a European Tour card for 2018. I want to win at least once on the Challenge Tour.
“Everybody likes to dream but I think if you don’t set your goals, you’ll struggle to recreate your dreams. If I play well enough everything will take care of itself but it would be a dream to play in the Irish Open in front of a home crowd and on a course I’ve played well on before. Hopefully my clubs can do the talking for me.”
Two years later and although Sharvin’s clubs have been humming a sweet tune for all to hear, he revealed a shift in focus when it comes to determining his goals for each season.
“It’s mad, I remember setting goals for the start of the year in the past and thinking ‘my God, if I do that it would be unbelievable!’ Now I think setting goals is important but it’s important to be realistic as well. There’s also a funny balance to be found between being realistic and challenging. To be honest, at the start of the year I didn’t set too many goals with Ed but what we did aim for was going to influence my outcomes in a broader sense.
“Two of my goals this year were to get into the top-200 in the World Rankings [he’s ranked 252 at the time of writing] and to get my stroke average to 69 [currently 70.75]. I mean, I haven’t reached either of them yet – I’ve got close – but our thinking behind setting those types of goals was that if we could get to them, the rest would take care of itself.
“I knew if I got to the top-200 in the world, I wasn’t going to play Challenge Tour next year and if my stroke average was 69, then it was also very unlikely that I’d be playing Challenge Tour next year. It’s very easy for me to set 10 goals but by setting those specific two, it took care of everything else.
“We haven’t had the chance to have our yearly review yet but after my first two events in South Africa and Mauritius, we’ll sit down together again and set our goals, enjoy the Christmas and come back raring to go, hopefully for Abu Dhabi next year.”